Daily Tip: How to manage syncing multiple iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads with iTunes

Daily Tip: How to choose what iTunes syncs to each of your devices

Have an iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, or any combination of iOS devices and curious how to manage just what music, apps and videos get synced to which device? Apple has posted a handy tip on doing just that. Check it out after the break!

[Inside iTunes]

Let's say you want your podcasts only on your iPod touch, your games only on your iPad, and your getting things done stuff only on your iPhone? (Or any combination of music, TV shows, podcasts, apps, games -- you get the idea.) It even works if you have a lot of devices, like separate iPod touches for all the kids. There's no limit to the number you can sync, so here's what you do:

  1. Plug your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad into iTunes via the USB dock cable.
  2. Find it listed under Devices in the left sidebar and click on it.
  3. Go through the tabs on the top of the iTunes window and select the music, movies, apps, podcasts, etc. you want to sync. (Bonus tip: the big, colorful capacity gauge at the bottom keeps track of how much space you have left so you can't add more than your device can handle.)
  4. Your selection can include none, all/automatic, or just the exact content you wish.
  5. Sync!
  6. Repeat with all your (or your family's) devices.

iTunes will remember the individual settings for all your iPhones, iPads and iPod touch and never confuse them so you get just the content you want on exactly the device you want. Every time you sync the content will get updated with whatever new media and apps you've purchased and selected and you can change your selections any time your device is plugged in via the tabs.

If you're using iTunes to manage multiple devices let us know what tips you've come up with to make your life a little easier. And if you have any questions leave them in the comments!

Tips of the day will range from beginner-level 101 to advanced-level ninjary. If you already know this tip, keep the link handy as a quick way to help a friend. If you have a tip of your own you'd like to suggest, add them to the comments or send them in to dailytips@tipb.com. (If it's especially awesome and previously unknown to us, we'll even give ya a reward...)

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Senior Editor at iMore and a practicing therapist specializing in stress and anxiety. She speaks everywhere from conferences to corporations, co-host of Vector, Review, and Isometric podcasts, and should be followed on Twitter @Georgia_Dow.

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Reader comments

Daily Tip: How to manage syncing multiple iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads with iTunes


The best idea: Playlists. Put stuff (Music, Movies, TV Shows, iTunes U, Books and Podcasts) into a playlist for a family member. Repeat for the number of people in your family. When you sync their respective iOS device, only select their playlist.

I have 3 iphone 4s, 1 itouch and 1 ipad all syncing on the same computer to the same itunes account. NO issues ever.

My wife and I both have an iphone 4 + 1 ipod touch. We use one computer to sync all 3 devices. Since we both use the same bookmarks, calendar & contacts we use the same user profile however, Her music preferences differ from mine so we use 2 seperate libraries. To do this is easy all you need to do is hold down the SHIFT key THEN launch Itunes. You will be prompted which library you want to open, choose your library and your good to go. If you need to sync different calendar & contacts and you use one pc you will need to set up 2 user accounts on your system. To share apps and music downloaded from itunes setup the same itunes account on both profiles. You'll need to go into your mobile apps directory and copy the .ipa file to the second profile to sync the apps. This will allow you to purchase one time and share on all devices.

Thanks for all the good info here, I have been lurking since I became an iPhone convert.
My concern right now, is that we have 2 iPhone4s, mine and my wife's, but mine is synced to my computer, as I travel a lot and her's is sync'd to her computer. We use the same iTunes account for both computers. Can I sync the apps for both, so we don't purchase twice?
Also, if we wanted to swap iphones (both on Vodaphone Spain) how would I do this, and still have my setup as I like (reason being, hers is unlocked and mine is locked)?

Or just do what normal people do, create separate accounts on the PC/MAC itself and avoid all of this confusion.

Which, at least on my PC, was a problem as music and vids that I imported to my user account would not show up on my wife's until I manually made iTunes re-check for the new media. Much easier to sync from one account

easiest way by far is to have different mac/pc accounts, I have 1 which is my main account on the PC, and that syncs my iPhone, then I created another account called iPad which does that!

hi I want to ask.. Is it possible using 1 pc for 2 iphones… Is the contact etc doesn't sync each phone.. Coz as I know if we sync it the contact will follow even we unthick the "sync automaticly".. so it will be merge or add more contact in the 2nd phone.. how bout that??

Why not create separate iTunes libraries for each device.
Option+Click on the iTunes icon and choose Create Library and go from there.
Switching library is just an Option+Click away.

I wasn't suggesting separate users per device, but multiple libraries, one for each device all on a single iTunes account.

Wife and I share an iTunes account so we don't have to buy things twice. Every time one of us syncs, whatever the other one bought on their phone automatically gets added to the other's phone. Kinda of annoying, but not the end of the world.

There's a setting on the iTunes app sync page for "automatically sync new apps" or something close to that. Unchecked it, and you'll stop having your wife's yoga / cooking / period tracker apps sneaking on to your iPhone!

I hold the shift button whilst opening itunes and it gives a dialog box of which library to open, I have one for myself and one for the misses. Much easier this way than the confusion of how its described in this article.

I agree! Hold the shift while opening iTunes, and "Create New Library". Do that for each device. (For instance - I have a library for HusbandsPod, HusbandsPhone, MyPod, MyPhone, and MyPad)
Then, when you're ready to sync, hold the shift while opening iTunes and "Select Library". Easy!

Hold down Shift?
Surely you mean Option!
Shift doesn't work on my MacBook, only Option gets the dialog for choosing a new or existing iTunes library.

Yea, but how to to manage the contact list on two separate iPhones with separate iTune accounts on the same computer? Some how our contact always merge.

Another question:
I just bought an iPad and I set up a new account for it. I have an older account that I don't use anymore that was used for an old iPod Touch 1st Gen.
Problem is - iTunes still has the old iPod Touch Apps in memory!! Signing out of the old account and into the new one did not help.
What else should I be doing?

When I plug in my iPhone, and try to synch aps, it lists only my daughters iPod touch aps, not mine.

What about backups (content backup, not just the app and its setting)? Will itunes create a separate backup for each device when I manually do so, and will these backups store in different folder in the appData/roaming/../ subfolders?

I'm managing a group of 20 iPods and 10 iPads for my school, all which have all the same apps that need to be on each. Given the quantity of apps, our district decided that it would be to everyone's best interest to sort them all into folders to make them easier to locate. Is there any way to do this without having to go through and create the folder and drag each app into it for every individual device?

I have purchased music from the store down to my iPhone, but I can't get the purchased music to my iTunes without without repicking my entire iTunes library, is there a way to leave my iPhone music alone and sync only the newly purchased music over to iTunes ?

I bought my wife the 4s yesterday. I connected her 3g to my itunes, and backed it up. Then I tried to restore her 4s from the backup I made where her name on it. iTunes started putting all my contacts, emails, etc on her phone. Any suggestions?

We are having the same problem. We have a compilation of 3 contact lists mixed together on our devices.
Please help!

Try setting up different users on the machine that you use to back them up, sort of a pain, but that's what I came down to doing, so it wouldn't co-mingle address books with my wife's iphone.

Music in iTunes will not sync to my iPhone. Every time I try to sync exclamation points pop up on every song. Also says that it can't find the folders. Do I need to add all my CDs again? Help

I got my two younger children iPod touches for Christmas and I have them on my iTunes account. Now every time I plug them up to my laptop they automatically sync to one another (ex.every app my son downloaded goes onto my daughters and vice versa. I have no idea how to change these settings. Anyone know? Thanks in advance!

Just bought another iPad. Don't have a computer. Can I copy my iTunes from my iPad to my new one without a computer?

Syncing More than one iPhone: Would really appreciate a MacHead's help here: How do I avoid merging contacts while using one User Account and - as it appears we have already merged our contacts - how do we UNmerge the contacts so that my wife has hers, I have mine...Input appreciated.

Wow, marvelous blog format! How lengthy have you been running a blog for? you made running a blog glance easy. The whole glance of your site is fantastic, let alone the content!

My boyfriend is going through a nasty divorce and got his kids a phone so they can always be in contact with him, well he set it up with his iTunes account so every app he downloads on his phone is going to go to theirs is what I am thinking and not only that but the ex will have all of his phone numbers. We have set up the smart controls but how do we have the kids phone not have all of his info in it?

We are managing a group of 30 iPads for our school, all which have all the same apps that need to be on each. Given the quantity of apps, we'd like to sort them all into folders to make them easier to locate. Is there any way to do this without having to go through and create the folder and drag each app into it for every individual device?

My problem is that I'd like to use some of the same sync settings on two different devices... I use my iPhone and iPad all the time, and since I am constantly listening to music, I like to have the same set of music from my library on both devices. Few things are more frustrating to me than wanting to listen to something specific and not having it on the device I have with me. Because I keep a wide variety of songs, artists, albums, etc. it really takes quite a while to go through the huge lists in the music tab and pick out which ones get synced. Do you know of any iTunes feature I may have missed that might allow me to just... do it once for one device and have it apply to both?